JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers on Monday voted down a bill that would have increased the penalties for killing or injuring police dogs after a bipartisan group of mainly black legislators spoke out against it.
The measure needed 82 votes to pass and only 73 House members voted in favor of it. Sixty-eight members turned it down.
If enacted, people convicted of killing or incapacitating police dogs and other animals used by law enforcement would have faced at least three years behind bars and possibly 10. The current penalty is up to four years imprisonment, but there's no mandatory minimum prison sentence.
The measure gained traction this year after Champ, a member of the Cass County Sheriff's Office, was stabbed in the neck in December while helping officers search for a 17-year-old suspected of stealing from a Walmart store. Champ returned to canine patrol duty last month.
Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who has made support for police a pillar of his administration, threw his support behind the bill. Republican Rep. Kathie Conway told colleagues Monday on the House floor that the dogs are expensive tools for police and won't attack unless someone is not obeying orders.
"Let's not make this something that it isn't," she said.
But black House members slammed the proposal, citing the use of police dogs on African-American protesters historically and noting that the measure on dogs was among the first to make it to the floor while legislation focused on police accountability has languished since protests that followed the 2014 police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Democratic Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said passing the bill would have sent the message that police dogs' lives matter more than the concerns of African-Americans. Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan pointed out that the measure would have made penalties for killing or severely injuring a police dog harsher than punishments for some sexual assaults.
Dogan also argued that the bill would have taken away people's right to stand their ground and defend themselves against an attacking police dog.
"Of course I want to protect our officers," he said. "But giving special protections to their dogs I think is a step too far, and it's a step that takes away my right to defend myself."